St. Paul's Lutheran Church
Reading the Bible for All It’s Worth
Practice #3: Reading the Bible in Bigger Bites, not Bits
Have you ever received a letter? Now, I realize for some of you younger folks, this may sound like a strange word—a letter? But for many of us over 40, writing letters was a common occurrence. In fact, for several hundred years, it was the primary way humans communicated over distances. If, then, you received a letter, could you imagine only reading just a few lines of it? What if you received a love letter…picture only reading bits and pieces, and not the whole thing!
A good portion of the New Testament is written as letters. Paul, John, Peter, James, Jude, and the author of Hebrews all wrote letters. As producers of letters (and even emails) ourselves, we all know this universal truth: letters are meant to be read at one time. While some letters are quite long, most of the letters of the NT can be read in under 15 minutes. Paul’s letter to the Philippians takes 12:35 to read out loud; John’s first epistle takes 12:16; James can be read in under 12 minutes.
Often, the authors of the divinely inspired Scriptures are counting on the reader/hearer hearing what they have to say in a particular order,and all at one time. The biblical epistle writers develop arguments, repeat themes, and change topics. There is variety in letters, yet also continuity. To read only bits of Galatians is to miss the crucial context of the whole. In other words, when reading Galatians chapter three, Paul is presuming you heard what came before in chapter two! Note well—Paul at the end of his first letter to the Thessalonians says, “I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.” (1 Thess. 5:27) Again, at the end of Colossians, he says, “And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans, and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.” (Col. 4:16) The intention is that the whole letter would be read and heard all at one time.
It’s not only letters that were written to be read or heard in one sitting. There are natural arcs and larger units of text that go naturally together. Know this: Jesus in Matthew 5, “opened his mouth and taught them, saying…” For the next three chapters, Jesus gives a variety of teachings, but all in the same sermon (that is, the Sermon on the Mount). Matthew tells us, “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.” (Matt. 7:28-29) Reading the whole allows one to consider all that Jesus has to say in that sermon.
We not only have shorter attention spans today, have less patience, are generally busier, and are distracted to death by the devices fixed to our hands. Simply, we just don’t take the time to read or hear the bible the way it was meant to be consumed. It takes practice, then, to acclimate ourselves to reading Scripture in bigger bites. Here are a few suggestions to train our eyes and ears:
• Start by reading shorter letters all at one time. Philemon will only take a couple minutes. Titus takes a little over five.
• Read longer letters by a chapter at a time, sometimes two. Good study bibles give indications when new topics are at hand.
• Listen to the Bible on audio. Think of all the times we are driving, at the gym, or waiting for an appointment. There are several good apps that present the bible creatively and in larger sections. The Tune In Radio app has a King James Bible Radio station! You haven’t lived until you work out at the gym while listening to 2nd Chronicles!
If you already have good devotional and reading habits built, keep it up! Wherever you are in your devotional life, catechesis is life-long and never stops. God’s blessings on your reading!